The greater implications of the International Court of Justice's verdict on Iran Sanctions.
Earlier this week the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the judicial organ of the United Nations, ordered the United States to ease sanctions it had re-imposed on Iran last year. The ruling was a small victory for the Islamic Republic of Iran. Though more importantly, it was a reaffirmation of international norms that maintain the balance of fair international standards of conduct.
Like many organs of the United Nations, the ICJ's rulings are not always binding on states and the court does not have the authority to enforce any of its rulings. Furthermore, the court's jurisdiction is strictly limited to states who have agreed to submit themselves voluntarily. Therefore, it is reliant to a large extent on an honor code. For this reason, the court as an institution is routinely criticized for being ineffective. This criticism is not without reason, since the court is severely limited. However, today's verdict sheds light on the potential power of this court to hold neo-colonial states accountable for their actions.
As is the case with most intergovernmental institutions, the predominant influence of neo-colonial states of the global north shifts the playing field against citizens of the global south. As we have seen over the past decades, states such as Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom often pursue controversial political policies at the expense of the livelihoods of people in the global south. Structurally there is not much that can be done, because these states hold ultimate power in the United Nations and most other international organizations. Thus, reform is very unlikely because these states would veto any changes that reduce their authority. However, having the ability to hold these states accountable is fundamental to the assurance of equal socioeconomic development and the sovereignty of states in the global south.
In its complaint to the ICJ, Iran argued that the sanctions imposed by the United States violated the 1955 Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Rights between the two countries. The United States argued that the ICJ should not have jurisdiction and that Iran's assertions fall outside the bounds of the treaty. Why is this out-dated treaty so important? Clause 2 of Article XXI of the treaty asserts the ICJ’s role: “Any dispute between the High Contracting Parties as to the interpretation or application of the present Treaty, not satisfactorily adjusted by diplomacy, shall be submitted to the International Court of Justice, unless the High Contracting Parties agree to settlement by some other pacific means.” Essentially, this means that the two states should resolve any issues in the court. The ICJ previously ruled that this treaty was still valid today, thus falling under the jurisdiction of the court.
As informed citizens why should we care, given the Iranian Regime's actions are not entirely motivated by the need to help its citizens? The existence of the ICJ provides a mechanism that allows the countries of the global south a legitimate opportunity to stand up to countries of the global north. Realistically it won't alter the inherent biases embedded in the international global order. However, it provides a small fighting chance for states to ensure that at the least their complaints are heard. Although this organ is only concerned with dispute rising between states, the mechanism can help the citizens of the global south. Through international treaties, countries of the global south should embed in all their international agreements a clause to settle disputes in the venue of the ICJ. In doing so, the states have a stronger chance of combating bad faith trade policies, that have become so common with the growing wave of international isolationism.
What is the takeaway? As concerns for the fall of multilateralism and isolationism grow, citizens should hold their politicians and leaders accountable for entering into treaties that allow for unbiased judgments that arise from various international disputes. Through this avenue, the standards of equal state rights can be upheld to some degree. Furthermore, relying on the court in most international treaties allows it to address the valid concerns of its critics. As more states submit themselves to the court, the adherence to the norms of the court equally increases.